Addressing the "scary, inner-city public school" Bias

“Gosh, I don’t know how you do it,” my aunt exclaimed as she sipped her wine. She was asking about my new position as a therapeutic support staff working in Philadelphia’s public schools as we waited for dinner during our annual Thanksgiving get together.

This was a typical response when I explained the work that I do. Generally, my elevator pitch goes something like this: “I work with children who have a range of behavioral issues. Many of the children are dealing with a variety of complicated home lives that range from divorced parents to neglectful homes to having a family member incarcerated – all of which impact their performance in the school setting.”

Before you create an image of what that means, let me preface it with this: I am no saint. I enjoy the work that I do. I am passionate about the kids that I serve. I still have much to learn and understand about the systems that I work and interact with. Yes, my work can be exhausting and it can be frustrating. TSS (Therapeutic Support Staff) workers, when used effectively, are an integral part to a school community. Sure, as with any position, it’s not for everyone, but please do not stigmatize the work that I do as untouchable or saintly.

Let me explain why.

If you Google “inner city public education,” some of your top hits will say something like this:

“Planned Failure”

“Why are inner city public schools so terrible?”

“overwhelmingly black and brown”

“at risk”

Sure, public education is embarrassingly underfunded and over-segregated in Philadelphia. Yes, our schools do struggle with high turnover of (underpaid) teachers and a higher concentration of children living in poverty. But, let’s get one thing clear: My kids are not stereotypes. Each child is brilliant in his or her own way. They are not the color of their skin or the history of their home life.

  • By Sophie Finn, Behavioral Health Worker